Beware the Down Ballot Races

Dr. Malcolm Cross

In 2022 more elections will be conducted to fill more public offices in Texas and throughout the United States than in any other country in the world.  Many of these offices are “down-ballot” offices, as opposed to “up-ballot offices” such as those of President, U. S. Senator, or Governor, all named  because of their relative places on election ballots.  Normally the down-ballot offices and their incumbents are considered by the voters to be too obscure and unimportant to be of much interest.  But incumbents in some of these offices, including those of public prosecutor or state secretary of state, can sometimes exercise great power, whether for good or bad purposes.  Men whose policies we may or may not like, such as George Soros or Donald Trump, are paying great attention to these offices and to those who fill them.  We need to do so too.

In America, whether because or despite the quantity of elections, the voter turnout rate is less than that for most other democratic countries.  Normally turnout is between 50% and 60%.  For nonpresidential general elections of the sort we’ll have in 2022, turnout is on average 35%.  In Texas, for most elections, turnout is roughly 10% less than the average for the rest of the country, whether the election is a presidential or nonpresidential election.  And throughout America and Texas, primary elections and local government elections typically attract even smaller percentages of voters. 

The sheer quantity of elections as well as the sheer number of offices to be filled in each election may help explain this. In Texas, for example, we’ll have party primaries this March, probably to be followed by runoffs, wherein we’ll select candidates for statewide, regional, county, and county precinct offices.  We may have runoffs as well before we select our state, regional, and county officeholders in November.  In the meantime, this May we’ll have local elections to select city council and school board members.  Political scientists claim our election schedule may induce “voter fatigue” and “ballot fatigue.”  Many voters, confronted with a seemingly frenetic and never-ending election cycle may choose to sit elections out.  And many of the voters who actually do go to the polls, when confronted with long lists of candidates vying for obscure offices, may simply vote to fill “up-ballot” offices such as for governor or mayor, while ignoring the races for “down-ballot” offices such as for land commissioner, or county commissioner.

Yet the great power that comes with some down-ballot offices makes it important that more voters pay attention to elections to fill them. Consider, for example, the down-ballot offices of public prosecutor and state secretary of state.

Recently mayors of several big cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City, have begun demanding tougher anti-crime policies to counter rising rates of vandalism, smash-and-grabs, and other offenses.  Yet decisions on who to prosecute and for what are made not by mayors but by prosecutors whose elections typically attract less attention, yet whose approaches to criminal justice may be at odds with what mayors and those who elected mayors really want.  The aforementioned cities, as well as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia, have each elected “progressive” prosecutors who advocate the lowering or elimination of cash bail for arrested criminal suspects, the reclassification of some felonies as misdemeanors, and cutbacks in the degree to which crimes will be prosecuted.  Is this what the voters really want?  Not necessarily.  The Wall Street Journal maintains that these progressive prosecutors were chosen in elections which most citizens ignored and in which few voted, following campaigns financed by George Soros.  The implication is that the voters, had they known what Soros was up to, would have come to the polls in greater numbers and produced different election results.  But they didn’t, and so they didn’t.  But voters who may not have liked the policies Soros and his surrogates were pushing yet who didn’t go to the polls to stop him are actually to blame.

Secretaries of state—appointed by the governor in Texas but elected in most other states—likewise can wield great power.  They’re their states’ chief election officials, supervising the work of county clerks and Democratic and Republican party organizations when participating in elections. 

The powers of secretaries of state were on full display in Georgia’s most recent elections.  In 2018, then-secretary of state Republican Brian Kemp purged Georgia’s voting rolls of thousands of names and then ran for governor, defeating Democrat Stacey Abrams.  To this day, Abrams maintains Kemp stole the election by removing minority voters who might otherwise have voted Democratic from the rolls and therefore refuses to concede defeat.  And Kemp’s successor, Republican Brad Raffenspeger, supervising the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, declared Joe Biden the winner of the state’s electoral vote, despite pressure from then President Trump to “find” enough ballots to allow Trump to be declared the winner in Georgia.  The conduct of neither Kemp in 2018 nor Raffensperger in 2020 is not the issue here.  At issue is that each won election to an office which allowed him to exercise great power in an election in which few cared to vote.

Just as George Soros is being credited, or blamed, for the election of progressive prosecutors, so too is it being reported that he wants to help elect more secretaries of state to help elect Democrats to office by implementing more liberal policies making it easier for minorities to vote while not purging the rolls of voters in heavily minority areas.  And Donald Trump is at work trying to purge Republican secretaries of state and replace them with men and women more compliant with whatever demands he may make.  Both Soros and Trump have a perfect right to legally exercise whatever influence they may have.  But the degree to which either Soros or Trump succeeds will depend not only on their own efforts but also on the degree to which We the People go to the polls to support or oppose their efforts.  And of course we should involve ourselves more.  After all, prosecutors, secretaries of state, and others may operate in the obscurity created by our apathy.  But given the impact they can have on us, shouldn’t we have a greater impact on them as well?

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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